Queen’s prof contender for Juno Award

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Dr. John Burge receives Juno nomination for Classical Composition of the Year

Dr. John Burge’s composition “Piano Quartet” recently received a Juno nomination for Classical Composition of the Year.
Dr. John Burge’s composition “Piano Quartet” recently received a Juno nomination for Classical Composition of the Year.

At some point between teaching at Queen’s and sitting on music committees across Canada, Professor John Burge managed to gain a Juno nomination for his piece “Piano Quartet”.

The Canadian music industry has flourished recently in both the popular and classical realms. The recent Juno nominations for Classical Composition of the Year include a plethora of talented composers, including Professor Burge. 

“We really, to use a boxing term, hit above our weight class,” Burge said.

“Even in the 90s we were still fighting somewhat with Canadian orchestras to play Canadian music,” he said. Since then, the industry has moved towards encouraging Canadian culture.

“Canada is the right size to affect national change and partly it’s because of the result of necessity. We’re such a spread-out country that we have to work together,” Burge said. To create unity, Canadian musicians created a cohesive system of national resources, which include the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Canadian Music Centre.

The Royal Conservatory of Music standardizes curriculum for music teachers, trains musicians and holds examinations. The Canadian Music Centre, meanwhile, provides a national database for compositions and professional recordings to make Canadian music accessible to the entire population.

The widespread availability of Canadian music and the strength of Canadian performers has strengthened the music industry and flooded it with talent.

“There is a strong shift to a national pride and to find things that come from our own heritage, our own landscape, and our own sense of place,” Burge said.

Much of this talent can be found at the Juno Awards, a ceremony to honour national talent. The Canadian Music Centre has published and released recordings for many Juno nominees, including Burge's “Piano Quartet”.

“I’m going around this the second time,” he said. Burge was first nominated for — and won — a Juno Award in 2009 in the same category for a piece titled Flanders Fields Reflections.

“[This year’s] a bit more intense,” he said. “I’ve had more interest and attention for the nomination in 2016 than I did for winning the prize in 2009.”

He attributes this interest to the popularization of social media.

“The students that were on Facebook and tweeting, ‘my professor is up for a Juno' is something that didn’t happen in 2009,” he said.

One of Canada’s leading piano quartets, Ensemble Made In Canada, commissioned Burge’s “Piano Quartet”. The same group also performed on the recording submitted for the award.

Burge said he enjoys composing whether he’s commissioned or not. Despite the constraints that can be put upon a composer while crafting a commissioned piece, Burge doesn’t find it a challenge. 

“My brain is hardwired to think about music,” he said. “It actually is not work. I just have to get the notes down on paper to get it out of my system.”

“Most of the people involved [in the classical music industry] are dedicated because they love it. They feel it makes them creative and satisfies what they want to do,” Burge said.

Music is a talent and a passion for Burge, and he’s one of few to successfully turn his love for music into a career.

“I count myself extremely lucky,” he said. 

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